Tag Archives: character development

Guest Post: Dare to be Stupid

(…with apologies to Weird Al)

One of the things I noticed the other day in a conversation with Wordsmith was that I tend not to write stupid characters. My protagonists are invariably clever, brainy, wisecracking, wise, and have things to teach the secondary characters. On the Hero’s Journey, I am the wizard.

It’s not that I’m afraid to write characters who don’t know a lot, or who lack intelligence, it’s just that I don’t live in that headspace. I learned to read and write when I was three, and I was testing in at 12th grade reading levels in fourth grade — by the time I was nine. I’ve been called a geek and a nerd for decades, and it wouldn’t be far off, considering my love for science fiction, fantasy, and all the shades of worlds between.

When I write mystery novels, the detective always solves the crime at the end. (Can you imagine a mystery novel where the detective -doesn’t- solve the crime at the end?) The point of a mystery novel is that the mystery is solved and the villain (usually) is caught, or at least their crimes are foiled and justice prevails. Otherwise the reader is left without a sense of fulfillment for taking the journey of discovery with the detective.

The ending _has_ to make sense.

…orrrrr…. does it?

At one point in my writing training I took a class writing for children. One of the things they said was to observe children in their natural headspace — and you discover pretty quickly that Kid Logic Doesn’t Make Sense All the Time.

At one point in my comedic improv training we had a workshop where we were encouraged to let our grips on what Reality Was slip, in order improve our improv skills — to act like kids again, turning the ordinary into extraordinary. Where a bus wasn’t a bus anymore, but a spaceship. And nobody questions you if they’re playing along, but the adults are quick to deny your reality substitution (hat tip to Adam Savage).

Wordsmith and I had the privilege of keeping company to someone’s six year old, who blithely ignored the conversation of the adults around them playing their own alternate reality game (Ingress) to talk about her plans to build a Cheetah Machine, so she could go fast in some sort of race she was participating in. That sparked an idea for a story about her kid characters (which originated from a prompt I gave her: ‘show me your main character’s childhood favorite TV show and cereal….’). “Build a Cheetah Machine” is now one of our inside jokes.

“Stupid” is a stigma. We live in a literary society, where the lack of the ability to read and write is a barrier to communication, something to be embarrassed about. And yet we all started out without that ability at one point in our lives — and many of us are still ignorant of foreign languages, written and spoken. No matter how much I claim to be a writer and speaker, airdrop me in Russia and I am mute and unable to read street signs.

We should never, therefore, consider someone’s lack of ability to communicate on our level to be ‘stupid’ — but rather simply unable to meet us on our literary landscape.

And that brings me around to the front of this article — I’ve gotten too used to operating on my own level when it comes to building ‘my’ character in my universes. It’s my strong voice, yes. But expanding my palette of personae ought to mean getting out of my comfort zone. Creating a believable Luddite or similar without being trope-ish or cliche’ — those are caricatures of people rather than real people.

In reality, _all_ characters who grow are ‘stupid’ in their own way — not for lack of intelligence, but for lack of knowledge of needed skills or understanding to prevail against obstacles. Even our vaunted hero, be he or she a superscientist with PhDs or a celebrated crime detective, comes into the story with no specific truths defined save what they bring in with them. We follow them as they make false assumptions, or did not bring the right tools to address an obstacle, and we see them fail, not once, but multiple times. We see them struggle with their lack of actionable intelligence and learn from the experience in order to win the day. Their insights and deductions do not pay off on page 1, 2, or 3, but more like 201, 252, or 303, when they are (by the author’s decree) now smart enough to put all the pieces together to solve the puzzle.

No matter how outwardly smart a character may be, they are just as clueless as the people around them — the difference is that they step up to the head of the class first. But the wizard may be there ahead of them, giving them that added Cliffs Notes study guide to get off the ground, or redirect them when they fall off the rails.

So this one is for me; the next character I write? Will have no clue. I can be the Moon Moon if I want to be. I do not need to know how to Cat at the front of the tale. I do not Need To Be The Smartest Person in the Room, because when I was in school, I rarely was. And it was fine then, and it can be fine now.

It’s a worthy challenge, and I plan to play dumb and feel it out. We were all clueless once, and it’s been awhile since I remembered how. My head is full of trivia, and I got a swelled head because of it, when people react, ‘How do you _know_ that?” — the older I get the more I remember, and so it’s been tough to pretend not to know things.

You should all play with me. We’ll build our Cheetah Machines together and have a race.

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Return

Last year, in January and onward, I was working on a piece that would turn into a project I’d pick up in April and try to work on for the Camp Nanowrimo of that month. I was sluggish and it was difficult to maneuver through it; though I had a general idea of what I was doing, that was pretty much all I had.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, when I’m about to close out the front of it after doing something of an overhaul on it.

I find it kind of funny, really. I’d sort of been on autopilot with it after camp, and then I just kind of faded and stopped working on it. In August, I found new momentum with it. Parts of the whole story that had once been difficult to tell and sculpt together were coming together with ease. I knew how the story got started, I had villains, I was making a stronger novel out of it. A proper one.

A year after going into it somewhat blindly, with only some interest to back me up, I finally found out how to run with it.

It’s sort of odd in its own way. Usually when I find myself interested in writing something, I actually manage to turn out a decent story. Now I wonder if I just plainly wasn’t ready to write this one at the time. It’s a new experience, to deal with this, seeing myself flounder at first and now flying through it with renewed fervor.

Partially, it reminds me of the ideas we have when we’re young. Our first ideas, the less developed ones we’re rapt with in the beginning and then they fade off, and we pick them up and then they fade off until eventually we get our fingers around them again and don’t let go, to the point we finally finish and have a product we’re immensely proud of and were excited to finish in the first place.

I have yet to get to that part, the forever-with-me idea from my youth, turning it into something, but I’ll get there eventually. It being a supernatural story in essence, I fear it’s been done to death.

But other than the undead story that off and on held my attention, I seem to always come back to one genre. I think we all do, really, we have that go-to that speaks to us and finds us better than the others, because we enjoy writing in it and we’re confident with our knowledge.

My go-to genres seem to be sci-fi, but not action, and not horror or thriller or crime (though I have a space opera waiting to be worked on some more), no. It’s drama. The nitty gritty of social gossip and class warfare in the name of romance. Maybe not so much class warfare, but I think you get the idea.

And for having all of these incredible actiony ideas and blow-you-away profoundness, I feel like it makes me come off as frivolous or silly. But I’ve always loved love. Writing erotica this November was like breathing. Nothing felt challenging about it part from working out pace and flow and how it ended and when things were figured out, so nothing to do with the genre. Writing romance is just my passive skillset, I think, and I love it.

One guess as to what this story is from last April that I’m bounding through now. Yeah. No surprise, right?

Which is why I mention coming back to that genre. You always have something you return to, something that feels comfortable, something you know you can push through with ease. And you’re so good at it because it interests you so much, it gets you thinking, it pulls you in and doesn’t let go.

And no matter what it is that brings you back, over and over, don’t ever feel bad about it. Embrace it.

The Novice Wordsmith

PS- One last little mention. Speaking of Camp NaNoWriMo, it is coming up this April and in June of this year as well. It is unlike NaNoWriMo because you can set your own goal, even if it is just revisions. Give it a look-see over at campnanowrimo.org.

Guest Post: A House of Prose, and Don’t be The Lauren

Everyone’s a critic.

When you ask for an opinion from someone on something you’ve done, what you’re secretly asking is ‘do you like this?’ And you secretly want them to like what you’re showing them. It’s the author’s curse; we want to be published, but we need to write something that people can relate to enough to want to buy.

The underpinnings of our society dictate that we have to ‘get along’, ‘be liked’, and ‘hold approval.’ Popular people are who we hear about; unpopular people are spoken about derisively or with hatred sometimes.

Books and writing our expressions of our writer’s soul. It is the innermost child (..or occasional lurking adult) seeking the light of day and the likes of others.

We pick our genre, the one we feel the most at home with, and we decorate the house of our novel home with the things that belong there. A family of characters, or a single person looking out the windows. A bunch of good-natured or mean neighbors to challenge the family. And then there are the things that try and burn the house down or break in and steal their stuff.

I say it’s a house here because the analogy is apt to me; we ‘live’ in the space of our novel when it’s going good, and then when it’s done, we do our best to spruce it up and invite guests to come visit.

I’ve lived in a few places over the years; that first moment when someone new sees my new place they always look around. Form impressions. Some of them look at the things I have on the walls, some of them look at my knickknacks, some of them look at my furniture, and a few of them poke their head in the bedroom.

“Nice place.” they say. Whether they’re being polite or not, I don’t know. But then again, I live in a rental, so it’s not a house I can do a lot of decoration with. I’ve been in a few houses that I’ve said, ‘this is a gorgeous place.’ I have things that I want in my house, so when I see one of those things, I appreciate it.

Now apply that idea back to books again.

Some folks can write an amazing epic tale that grabs you from the get go; some folks write a ramshackle tale that barely holds itself together; you can see the holes in the plot like you notice crayon marks or holes in the walls.

It is not a reflection on the owner/author; it is all about the _everything_ in the house/novel, rather than the bits that you notice that stick out to you.

I’ve got a friend that I’ll call Lauren. She wanted to be a writer, because I was one. She participated in the NaNoWriMo, because I did, and people really liked my first novel.

When she read it, the first thing she asked was, “Is this about you? Is that character there me?”

(The answer was no and no. Because I am not a six foot tall efficiency expert who drives a convertible.)

Then she started poking holes in the novel. Pointing out typos, a half-finished sentence here and there, that sort of thing.

“I know.’ I said, defensively. “It’s a first draft. Thanks.”

When she won NaNo for the first time, she gave me her first effort at writing a full length novel. Asked me what I thought.

It was a pretty good tale, but she got lost in the weeds when she hit Week 3 and there were two very similar characters that I kept getting mixed up, and there was another point where she was missing parts of the description because she was in what I call ‘fugue state’ — you can see the action in your head, and it’s rushing fast, but she didn’t put it all down on the page.

“Did you want me to make edits or did you just want an opinion?”

“Just an opinion. I know my writing sucks.”

“I liked it. It had some good suspense elements, and your heroine is genuinely likable. Your supernatural elements are solid, too. And your writing does not suck.”

“Do you think I could get it published?”

“I think it needs some work before you can get there. There are some elements that need more details, and your ending is a bit rushed. I’d like to see more of the world, too.”

“You hate it.” she said.

“No, I don’t hate it. It’s good! It’s a first draft and I like what I see here. That’s the nature of the Nano — nobody ever produces a perfect first draft, but the Nano makes you actually finish that first draft. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have finished it.”

Later, I heard she’d shared it with some of her other friends, with the additional rider comment that she felt I didn’t like it, because I didn’t think it was good enough to get published. Of course, she was giving it to friends who liked her as a person, and since she had predetermined for them that she was looking for praise, not critique, by way of ‘Friend didn’t like it, I’m hoping you will’ — she was told what she wanted to hear, rather than the truth. And when one of her friends, who is usually bluntly honest, said that it was ‘scattered and disorganized’, Lauren was done showing people. The manuscript went somewhere dark and never saw the light of another person’s eyes again, for fear of disapproval.

She tried her hand at writing the sequel the next year, because like many first time successful novelists, they still have a story left to tell. And it’s easier to work within an existing world than it is to spin up a brand new one.

But she got sick the first week, and stopped writing, and because she was a week behind, she gave up. This was the same year I wrote 100K words in the month.

She hasn’t attempted the Nano since.

For me, the NaNoWriMo is one of my life’s passions. I’ve done it every year for the past twelve. I talk about it a lot. Whenever I’m with friends or family, and I bring up the idea of Nano and they like the idea and are impressed with someone who can write that much in that little time, none of them really ask, ‘Yes, but are they good novels?’ If they do, or they ask when I’m getting published, I just grin and say, “I’m still working on that part. It’s a first draft, and a story that needs to be told, and one of these years I’ll like something enough to edit it and try and get it published. But it’s great practice and a grand adventure that I willingly take every year.”

They are invariably encouraging.

Lauren, if she’s also present, frequently jumps into the conversation with the “Hey, I wrote for the Nano too…” (Subtext: I want some of the positive attention you’re getting.)

“Oh cool!” is the response. “What are you writing this year?”

“Oh, I’m not likely to. I did it once about six years ago.” she says. “I have a bunch of good ideas, but I don’t have the time.”

Predictably, that means the focus goes back to me shortly after, because I have Ideas and Advice and Encouragement That You Should Play This Year. Nano is my passion, and I believe everyone should play at least once — if not more than once — because everyone has that lurking story in the back of their heads, triumphs, troubles,tasks, thoughts, tribulations, trout that traversed the trawler’s tail temporarily, those things. Tall tales. Truth, too.

At the end of one of those days, Lauren asked, “How come they never acknowledge me as an author like they do you? Do I suck that badly?”

“You didn’t show them your work.” I said. “You can’t know that they won’t like it until you show them, and the people you showed all liked it.”

“You didn’t like it.” she said.

“I did. I’m sorry you don’t think I liked it because I offered constructive criticism.”

“Well, I’m not a writer anyway.” she said.

Don’t be the Lauren, ladies and gentlemen. Write because you want to. Write because you have an amazing idea that’s half-baked — and understand that it’s okay to write a story that goes awry in the first chapter, as long as you follow the prose wherever it goes.

Don’t write because you need to be loved vicariously through your writing. I’ve written some of my best work when I was miserable, because pain is a crazy good resource to write out of sometimes.

Do write because you have a world you want to share, no matter how big or how small the space is. Do write because you want to finish the story, or at least take it for a spin around the block. Or the galaxy.

You never publish what you never write.

Nobody will ever see the house that you’re afraid to invite them over to visit. And when you decorate the walls with your art, be it imitations of the Masters or kid macaroni art, when you get your furniture of gleaming chrome and exquisite silks, stuff you, personally, might never be able to afford, but your characters can?

Don’t expect everyone who visits to want to move in. It’s your house of prose. You wrote it. You made the installment payments of 50,000 words or more (or occasionally less). Maybe the back rooms aren’t done. Maybe the roof has leaks that you didn’t see. Maybe the patio door is hung upside down. But it’s your home, the home of the tale you had to build from the ground up, and you ought to be proud of it.

You can always redecorate later, but you’ve got to turn the key in the lock and drag the readers in, first.

Build your first story, and you have the beginnings of a homeworld that is uniquely yours.

Dare/Prompt: Inked Up

One of the fun things I always forget about that I can add for characters adds to a more alternative look. Tattoos, piercings, dyed hair.

Simple as they are, they can help round the character out, while giving something fun or exciting to look at from another character’s standpoint. Some, who aren’t as enamored with these sorts of things, may not think of them so much. Others may not have many characters without them.

Putting marks on a character that’s well established already is only tricky if you pass it off as them having it for long enough that it coincides with other works you’ve written.  Giving them new ink or piercings, or glasses, or any other small, little things that help aid the appearance, however, can do a lot to sway them in one direction or another, personality wise, or establish their attitude or dynamic better, in some ways.

The prompt/dare is this: Look back on all of your characters and really think about which ones have what. Consider if these things dictate the character, or the other way around. If you don’t have characters with a tattoo, or someone who likes to dye their hair, or has piercings that aren’t in their ears, make one, with the conscious decision on whether the personal affects help define the character, or the other way around.

Don’t be afraid to go overboard, go with what feels right for the character. Write what’s right, essentially. 😉

– The Novice Wordsmith

NaNoWriMo 2014: Preparing, Week 1: Curiosity and Confidence

Back in 2010 was the first time I heard about NaNoWriMo. I had a friend who told me about all of what it was, and, mystified by the concept of writing 50,000 words in a month, I found myself wanting to do it. I wanted to tackle all of those words, but it was too daunting a task. I don’t think I even really tried to do anything until 2012 rolled around.

That same friend who told me about the month of November’s challenge still has yet to do it himself, let alone complete it. This month, I found out why.

Confidence. It’s the first time I’ve heard that reason said out loud, but I could see it in myself before, and in other friends who have tried. When you think about it, and how much you write every day, or every week, 50,000 words can be incredibly daunting, and daily writing even more so, if you’re not used to it.

So let’s look at November. When you take away the 50k goal, it’s a daily writing challenge. Don’t worry about the goal every day if you can’t reach it. The real reason for National Novel Writing Month is to work on an idea that’s been in your head, and to get it out, and to put any effort toward it. Work, no matter how small or big it is, will make a difference, and daily writing will take you where you need to go.

Any bit helps. 100 words to 1700. Only do what your pace can handle. There is always next year. And you have another 11 months before it happens again to improve.

Personally, my first NaNo attempt flopped in the middle. I didn’t have proper planning or work done, I started writing on November 1st and floundered until I just stopped completely. As much as I was determined to do all I could that year, as much as I wanted to finish and do something, I had very little done to help me get there, or so I thought, and I lost confidence, got self conscious, fell behind, stressed myself out, and let it fall.

Even if that happens, the most important thing is that you tried. You went for it instead of letting it intimidate you the entire time.

As far as preparation goes, what you need to run into the month with, at least have a basic outline of the plot. Know where you want it to go. Nothing’s wrong with going in without a huge, built structure, but, at least for me, knowing where the novel will take you is all you really need to keep writing.

Don’t be afraid to jump a few scenes ahead and write something else, either, as long as you know it can fit in later. Whatever gets you going.

Those who have been doing this for some time have their own rituals of how to crack down. As from last year, I like to know early what I’m going to do, and do as much character building as possible, plot building, put together something and then make a break down of what will happen. Unfortunately, this year, that little ritual has stalled out. Doesn’t mean I won’t try to do it this month, though it’s not as much time. Others take October to hash it all out and put things in their places. They write on post-its and have a dry-erase board at their disposal.

During the month, as Dominika had pointed out not long ago, having meals planned and set helps with being able to go about the day and get back into writing. I thought that was clever. Mostly, I just amble around aimlessly finding something to chew on while I reset my head, but for those frenzied writing days, it seems perfect.

For those of you who want to do it this year, you can sign up on the official website (Which reboots soon!) to keep your wordcount updated daily, and connect with others in your region, as well as finding kickoff parties and meetups with your fellow writers, doing word wars in the forums or the IRC chat (I think that’s what they have), and any number of outreach and community things. They also have merchandise available, and you can help but donating!

So if you’re still on the fence about whether or not to participate this year, I hope you come over to the writing side, not matter how scarce or how prolific you are in November. We’ll be glad to have you with us.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Disclaimer: Not a part of the NaNoWriMo team personally, I claim no credit, this is all theirs. Again, website here.

Putting your Hero Through Their Paces

Also known as: Deliberately Doing Mean Things to your Hero.

One thing that got me when I was reading one of Friend’s stories, about one of his characters meeting him, was that the character asked, “Why are you doing this?”

His response was, “It makes a good story.”

Which, if I were that character, would make me feel very forlorn. Why is my creator putting me through all of these rigors if they know what it will do to me? Don’t they love me? What the hell did I do to deserve this?

Thinking about it, probably all of my characters would ask me that.

The reason is the story. It is the rigors and the hardships and the tough, stress, anger, sorrow that makes everything so real and so tangible, it puts more life into the character, it is another way to relate and fall in love with them. If they experienced nothing traumatic or alarming, nothing heartfelt or upsetting, wouldn’t you feel even more distanced from them?

I still remember another friend giggling madly as he thought up embarrassing situations to put his character in. It amuses us, and there’s a point to it. It helps development, it helps move plot, it helps us see the dimensions of not only the story but the character themselves.

Tossing a villain at them that they can’t kill right away, shoving them into a situation where they struggle, forcing them to find a way out, putting them in the face of adversity, it is all for the sake of the story. It is what we do as story-tellers. We love our characters, we want to see them flourish, we want them to go above and beyond, and we put them in these situations because we know they can find a way out, and because it will help them in the long run, to get to the point we want them to be at.

One thing I will say is that you shouldn’t just throw something at them just to do it, and if you end up not liking what you did, you CAN go back and change it. Do not put them in something that you don’t like, and unless it’s your intention, that you want, that will aid the story, don’t put them in something without a way out in mind.

It is probably one of my favorite things, to find new things to put them up against, because of how dynamic it makes the story. Action, suspense, thrill. It keeps the reader on the edge (and sometimes the writer), hooks them in and shows them something unexpected.

Your character might think you’re a sadist, but– actually, I’m not gonna finish that statement, that sounds really awful.

Don’t be afraid to do mean things, if you like where it takes your hero. Remember, they’re on a journey, and you decide where it goes, but it should always contribute to the story in some way. You can apologize later with some good karma, if it works out.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Dare: Endangered

Chances are that you have a slew of characters. They’re mostly good, some of them are chaotic, others are just downright hellish. Or maybe they’re all one way or the other. Whoever you have in your stable of mains and secondaries, this dare is for you.

Consider yesterday’s post about voice, then think about who of your characters would be most likely to get themselves into a huge mess, one that may threaten their life because of tangling with the wrong people. Is it a gang? An occult that they tried to get in good with for information? Maybe they made friends with someone or got romantically involved because they thought the person was innocent at first?

Then, think about how they would get out of it. Do they know how to make people disappear? Are their skills based on financial persuasion? Depending on the universe they’re in, are they magically inclined, or do they have the tools to take someone out easily or with some effort?

Finally, does the threat end there, or does it follow them in some way? Psychologically, subconsciously, or physically? Does the person or people threatening them before come back to haunt them? If so, how does it truly end, and who comes out on top? Is the night or day of danger something that stays with them, keeping them from sleep, or was it something they could simply shake off?

I suppose this also ties in with the suspense post I made the other day, and putting your characters in danger, but making sure not to put them in situations you don’t like, or that they can’t bounce back from. Making it look like they can’t, but giving them an ace up their sleeve. Which also ties in to yesterday’s post about voice; thinking about what choices they have or what they would be capable of.

In the end, it all ties together. However intentionally or not.

In Writing, Yourself

A teacher once told me, “When you write, a piece of yourself goes into it.”

It made sense. You write from your heart and from your head and you put a personal piece of yourself in whatever you’re doing. Whether it’s from experience or imagination, it’s part of you. Writing is used as an outlet for many, for heartbreak or happiness, or for whatever passion they had.

I didn’t think about another angle of it until earlier this year, and it’s been surprising me ever since.

Consider every character you’ve created. What traits do they have that you do, too? Or traits that you want, what kind of situations have you put them in?

In some ways, we live vicariously through our characters. In others, we put our own experiences in them, and they become a reflection of who we are, what we want, or what we cannot or haven’t achieved. Mostly on accident. But isn’t that what makes those characters so easy to write? Because you understand and relate to them on some level?

It’s not just characters, but scenes. Living situations. Worlds. Suddenly, your writing turns into a playground where everything is possible, and it’s hard not to go wild.

Think about what you find yourself writing most often. Is the character slim and tall with a lot of money behind their name for whatever reason? Or are they larger, squat, pinching pennies?

It goes back to the idea that you look for certain qualities in a partner that you don’t like about yourself. Good teeth, neat, straight hair, eyes that are green or blue. Depending on what you’re comfortable and happy with about yourself, what you accept, you’re probably more likely to write those traits into characters.

Writing is deeply personal already, but when you pour your soul into each character, each scene and plot twist or hook, it steps up to a whole different level. You become your writing, and your writing becomes you, in a way.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Your Novel: The Film

So I have just enough time to write something in before I leave to spend some time with friends, but I wanted to make sure I said anything because I won’t be able to post until late.

Today, as my only full day off, was a good day for me to go see a movie, and, as par for my big, imaginative, fantastical brain, I obviously had a bunch of really crazy thoughts about novels of mine getting turned into films, and how that would look, how I’d want it to, and what kind of things they’d do right that I would approve of.

If that hasn’t crossed your mind before, let it. Think about it. What would you want it to look like, how do you see it coming to fruition? How do you see your characters looking, who would play them?

I remember getting into little frenzied conversations with friends about actors and actresses who would play our MCs and why. It’s something that makes you think, considers how your character comes across and what they sound like. It’s another step in personalizing them, taking them out of the fiction and giving them life, quite literally.

Though now I realize that if you are a screenwriter, you’re probably thinking about this a lot more. Who the role fits, was it made for a specific person or is it versatile, what a scene requires, where you want it to be shot. In that case, consider it being illustrated. If you didn’t have to worry about the conventions of actors, and instead the art, what style would you want it in? Is it colorful, or is it drab?

It’s fun to just let your mind wander, consider things that may or may not ever be, just because. If nothing else, it might motivate you to work on other mediums of creativity like painting or drawing, or photography. Whatever it is, don’t hold back.

-The Novice Wordsmith

“…Wasn’t a good idea because of the shell shock–­­” “PTSD,” she corrected, prodding him in the ribs.

My last post got me to think about something bigger, after a short conversation in the comments.

When I was younger, I played a lot of games, and if you can recall the fuss about video games, you know that there’s violence in them. This isn’t about how violence influences children, but how it influences your characters, when they’re thrust right into the middle of it, be it war, a gang related felony, a city riot, or an isolated incident.

Psychology is something that I didn’t think about when considering a character for a while. When you pull the character out of a violent game or you put them in a violent setting writing wise, there’s bound to be some kind of damage.  It also comes down to what you want for them; do you see them being the type to be in action, front and center, or are they shipped somewhere with very little? Do you want them to be ruled by the trauma, or would you like to see them conquer it?

If they aren’t fazed by it, why? Is there something else there that keeps them from being tortured by it, are they hardened to the difficulties, have they seen it frequently for very long, or do they have a disorder that keeps them from feeling emotion at all (and if so, in your world, is it independent or genetic?)

There are stories that revolve around the psychosis, as well. A short story I wrote over the winter included a young girl who watched the massacre of her family and developed Disassociative Identity Disorder (Multiple personality disorder), and was based on her journey through dealing with it.

Trauma is not always a hindrance to the character, as I once thought it was. It shapes them, it makes them more human, as Victoria (http://en.gravatar.com/vdavenportwrite)said. It gives them a more real dimension that fleshes them out, and you can use it as a strength or a weakness.

In the project that I’m currently working on, which the quote is from, a new recruit is shoved into combat with a hostile alien race for the first time. After that encounter ends, he finds himself feeling more guilty from getting his friend nearly killed instead of watching the invader die before him. The difference here is played on by a thought that the less human or relative it is to that person, the less guilt there is, because they don’t see it with the same sympathy as someone else. It is, as I think about it, likely to be associated with xenophobia, really: “it’s strange, different, and I hardly know what it is, but it was going to kill me.”

On the other hand, there are others yet who could barely justify killing insects, no matter how different, physically and otherwise (obviously) they are. Everyone has varying levels of comfort with violence, toward everything. What kind are your characters?

-The Novice Wordsmith